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Fish: their habits, senses, and haunts.

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"Ay," says the tender-hearted sentimentalist, "it is all very well to write enthusiastically on the pleasure of fishing, but how about the poor fish?"

How about the poor fish I And we are forthwith treated to the hacked and hackneyed quotations from Dr Johnson and Lord Byron about Walton and anglers and angling. Nay, only the other day a newly-fledged philosophy talked learnedly about the sense of pain In the lower animals, the cruelty of baiting hooks and hooking fish, winding up with the weft-known quotation about the "poor beetle," finding in corporal sufferance a pang as great as when a giant dies," - which may be good poetry, but it is bad science. Shakespeare did not know that pain is comparative only, and depends on the organisation of the nervous system; and if it were not so, the death of the fish by the angler's hook is less painful than that caused by the attack of other piscine species which prey on them. For fish do not die a painful death when taken out of the water. Rome fish die instantaneously, as the herring; others, as the eel, perch, and pike, live long, and may be conveyed great distances from one pool to another. It is even said that pike, moved by an inscrutable instinct, will voluntarily cast themselves out of the water and transport themselves, by a series of jumps, to a neighbouring river or pool. No one would grudge the ravenous pike any amount of pain, for it is so cruel and voracious that it preys upon its own species. I need not point to the hand of nature, or justify the angler's art by the doctrine of necessity.

Ere proceeding to treat of the senses and habits of the fish, let me look at this oft-repeated charge of cruelty. When the worm writhes on the hook, we know that it must feel a certain amount of pain, though it is more than probable that its movements partly arise from an instinctive effort to escape, for it equally wriggles and writhes when merely held between the fingers. Nay, we even know that when cut in two the worm speedily recovers, and the missing tail grows again. There are instances innumerable in the insect world of an apparent insensibility to pain. Spiders will lose a limb with equanimity. Crabs will hobble off, leaving a claw behind. Frogs seem scarcely to heed also the loss of a limb, and even man, in a savage state, will bear an amount of pain almost impossible to realise. The Indian taunts his tormentors when at the stake and without agreeing with H. W. Emerson, who seems to think that when the nervous system has received a certain shock pain ceases, either by the fainting of the injured, or the flesh becoming benumbed, we may fairly assume that " cruelty to animals" as displayed by anglers, is not a prime of very deep dye. Perch, pike, and even the timid roach, have been known to bite again with previous hooks still sticking in their jaws. Christopher North humorously describes a trout going off with your " hook in one cheek, and his tongue in the other; " and there is abundant evidence to prove to those who are squeamish on the point, that -it is not so very barbarous after all; or they may satisfy their scruples by using none but artificial baits; and they may be pleased to know that the best naturalists do not impute the struggles of the fish to escape from the hook to the sensation of pain, but rather to surprise and indignation, at finding their free volition interfered with; and that, according to Erasmus Wilson, " motion alone cannot be taken as an index of sensation."

Ere he can capture a fish, the inexperienced angler will find that he has much to learn; for though fish may be deficient in sensation, they can see, hear, and move with remarkable quickness.

The eye of a fish is not only large in proportion to its size, but it is larger in thick and muddy waters than in clear streams. It concentrates the diffused light of a thick medium in a remarkable manner. Hence it is necessary that the angler should not only keep out of sight as much as possible, but that his attire should be of a dark and Sober tint. Not only must he beware of his shadow falling into the. stream, but he must know to some extent the laws of reflection and refraction, or he will be unconsciously showing his image to the fishes whilst pluming himself on his skill in keeping out of sight. Hence a cloudy day is so much superior to the brilliant sunshine for the purposes of the angler. The sight of fishes is one of their highest sentient endowments; and if the point of the hook but protrude from the tempting bait, it will not lure the stupidest fish in the muddy waters of a ditch.

I resided for some time in the neighbourhood of a pond where the fish were in the habit of being fed. I could never discover whether it was the sight of the feeder on the brink, or the sound of his footstep, that first attracted them. They were so fearless that they boldly came to the water's edge, and apparently unable to recognise whether it was their master or a stranger feeding them. A hurried tramp or noisy footstep at once sent them flying to the deeper depths of their narrow home. I am inclined to think that the hearing of fish is more acute than naturalists seem to say is possible. A lump of ground bait, however loud the splash, will not disturb them; and they soon seem to associate the noise with the food; but an unusual sound will scare them like sheep before a strange dog. No one car. resist the inference, that the footstep of the angler should be as light as possible, and all unusual sounds should be carefully avoided.

Do fish smell? Bottom-fishers are peculiarly interested in this question. They, like the fly-fishers, are somewhat dependent for sport on the presumption that fish are gifted with a discriminating power of sight: but they also hold, according to the traditions of their predecessors, that not only can fish smell, but that their olfactory nerves are remarkably acute; and acting on this presumption, we have scented and coloured pastes in great variety. Erasmus Wilson places the sense of sight first, hearing second, and smell third in fish. Indeed, he almost insinuates that the difference between one bait and another, if equally attractive to the eye, would be scarcely perceptible. Judging from a long experience, I am inclined to place the sense of smell in a higher rank than that of hearing, practically, if not anatomically. The water, it is true, cannot course through the valvular openings which appear to serve as nostrils, and it has to be expelled through the apertures provided for that purpose, but they are always in motion; and the membrane and nerve are most beautiful and delicate for conveying the impression to the brain. Odours spread with great rapidity down a stream, and fish will assemble from a great distance to a well baited spot. Mr Moffat tells an anecdote of eel-fishing, which is, no doubt, true to the letter, of the attraction of some large lob-worms on a dark night to the fish; which seemed to have come from a long distance, attracted by the sense of smell. Asafoetida is said to have a peculiar attractiveness to trout; as much, indeed, as valerian has to cats, or aniseed for rats. From whatever cause it arises, a plain paste is not near so effective a bait as w hen a little gin and honey is added. Mr Moffat evidently does not believe in gin, though the midland bottom-fishers do. Let the angler for chub or roach try both plans. Let the troller try the same stream with a fresh fish and a stale one; let the perch-fisher try a dead worm and thru a live one; or let him set his trimmers with both fresh and stale baits, and he will traly find that one is taken and the other left, I was much struck it h the discriminating power of fish in this respect when fishing for hake off the coast of Waterford. We had no regular bait, which is a piece off the tail of the fish, but had to content ourselves with some pieces of salted fish, herrings, and sprats. The promise of sport was not very brilliant, though we knew that the fish were there, and could hear the dull heavy thud from the neighbouring boats as the fish were struck on the back of the head with the boat stretcher. We toiled, but in vain, until a bold ling seized my bait, and was speedily in the boat, killed, and strips of his tail on our hooks, three fathoms deep. Then we were rewarded. The fresh bait were greedily taken, and we secured half a boatload of fine fish. An old Nottinghamshire angler, to whom, when a boy, I was indebted for many valuable hints, told me that when fishing in the Trent, he used to meet an old collier, who was not only a most successful angler, but one wild could lure the fish on to his hook when everybody else failed. This naturally excited the curiosity of the neighbouring fishermen; and as the taciturnity of the collier equalled his skill, they resolved to find out his secret. They watched him, and found that his pastes were coloured and scented; but with what? After an investigation not much unlike espionage, they discovered that a variety of essential oils, saffron, and balsam of Tolu entered into the composition of the old man's pastes, and that he changed them month by month to suit the varying appetite of the fish he angled for. As balsam of Tolu is sweet, aromatic, and of a lemon flavour, it might be tempting to the piscine palate, or attractive by its scent, which, by the addition of a little potash, changes to this odour of clove pink.

Fish are so apt to adapt themselves to the particular water and circumstances around them, both in colour and food, that one bait will not serve for all waters nor for all seasons. The angler must study somewhat the water he is fishing in, its colour and general appearance, and adapt his gear accordingly; remembering that unusual sounds disturb the fish, and the lashing of the water with the line, letting it hang in links or hanks, will all operate against his success. The fish must not be alarmed by the sight of the angler or his shadow; neither must his footstep be heavy, or his song too loud. If he would profit by his higher intelligence, let him not outrage common sense, but remember how often instinct is higher than reason, and that the instinct and senses of a fish arc not the meanest in the animal creation.

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